Annual Sober Bowl Hosts Football Fans in Recovery

By Victoria Kim 02/06/18

The third-ever Sober Bowl in Minneapolis was hailed a success, and there's already talk about hosting events for the Atlanta Super Bowl in 2019.

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sober bowl minneapolis
Minneapolis's Sober Bowl event at the Muse Events Center Photo via Facebook/SoberBowl 2018

Super Bowl LII has come and gone, but there’s already excitement about next year’s Sober Bowl events, inspired by the success of the first two.

This year, just a short drive from the U.S. Bank Stadium where the Philadelphia Eagles beat the New England Patriots, a sober crowd gathered at the Muse Event Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota to watch the historic game.

There was live music, comedy, and all-you-can-eat food and refreshments. A second party happening on the same night kicked off in Houston, Texas, at Hughes Manor.

“We wanted to create a venue where people could enjoy the Super Bowl and a game day experience without the trappings of alcohol,” Jeremiah Gardner of the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation, a title sponsor of the Minneapolis event, told Minnesota’s Star Tribune.

The success of Sober Bowl is growing, and its organizers say the recovery-themed event will continue to follow the Super Bowl every year. Next year, Sober Bowl will land in Atlanta, the site of Super Bowl LIII, with similar events in Minneapolis.

Gardner says there’s no shortage of demand for this type of event. “Add up all the people in the United States who don’t drink or drink very little and it’s roughly half of us,” Gardner told the Pioneer Press. “There really is a market for non-alcoholic events.” Especially within football fan culture, the sober gatherings offer a refreshing alternative to traditionally beer-soaked festivities.

Aside from the music acts and alcohol-free beverages, SoberBowl parties also feature special guests like former Minnesota Vikings defensive lineman Carl Eller, who shared his experience with problematic drug use before getting sober in 1981. Eller, who was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2004, relapsed in 2004. According to the Pioneer Press, the 76-year-old retired player has stayed in his recovery since February 14, 2010.

Another former NFL player, quarterback Ryan David Leaf, who has played for the San Diego Chargers and the Dallas Cowboys, also shared his story of addiction and recovery. Leaf spent 32 months in a Texas prison for stealing pain medication from a friend’s home in 2012. He is now in recovery, and works as a program ambassador for a group of sober living houses in Los Angeles, Houston, and New York. “I don’t recommend going to prison,” said Leaf. “But I’m grateful for it. I needed to be humbled by it.”

Leigh Steinberg, the sports agent who inspired Tom Cruise’s character in the 1996 film Jerry Maguire, helped Leaf on his path to recovery. Steinberg had to do it for himself when his drinking got out of control, which eventually brought him down from the success of his $120 million firm representing NFL players, and left him homeless.

Steinberg has been sober now for almost 8 years. And as a sober person, he believes the Sober Bowl is doing a great service for football fans who wish not to imbibe or be around the raucous, sometimes violent, energy of drunk revelers. “The connotation of drinking and football and the Super Bowl is heavy,” said Steinberg, according to the Pioneer Press. “This is a model and alternative way to celebrate the day.”

Sober Bowl was founded by Tracy Abbott and is produced by The ARK. Learn more at www.soberbowl.us.

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Victoria is interested in anything that has to do with how mind-altering substances impact society. Find Victoria on LinkedIn or Tumblr

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